Something about this incarnation of Beautiful Mistakes you oughta know: It’s largely an amalgamation of my old websites, with a focus on my personal creative expressions rather than fandom like in times and domains past.
Below is an illustrated history of my life as an online content creator.
In the Beginning…
Since 1996, I had been dreaming of creating a website dedicated to my obsessions. I started drawing up plans for the website, but with limited internet access and no html skills, I was unable to put my plans into action. For years my plans were put on hold until I finally created my first website in early 2000, and dubbed it PenDragon’s Den.
I came up with that name as, even then at the tender age of 17, I was a voracious reader of SF and a budding writer. As a fiery-prose breathing teenage lizard of a girl, this was to be my lair on the web. However, because I knew very little about coding, I used the templates that were available from the website and chatroom provider TalkCity (which, unfortunately, favoured visuals above text to the point that it was difficult to find a sufficient manner to place my wording). This was my first modest, awkward step into the greater online world.
By June of 2000, I had taught myself enough html code to build a simple html-based website with minimal assistance, and I quickly developed a miniature online empire which branched off into multiple mini-sites on multiple servers.
By April of 2001, I had a score of websites to my credit under multiple different free hosts (including the now-defunct companies of Geocities, FortuneCity and Bravehost), but quickly realized that I was spreading myself too thin, going off in too many directions. I decided that one large central website (or at least a website listing all of the sites I own) would be far better than having nearly two dozen websites scattered throughout the web with nothing to keep track of them. A lack of sufficient time to update my sites was also a significant deciding factor. My desire to create was supplanted by a need to simplify my creations.
After a painful break-up, I flailed for awhile with confusion on what to do with myself. My wise mother suggested that I further my affinity for technology and go into school for computers. I entered Brick Computer Science Institute, less than a dozen miles away from my little New Jersey town, in June 2003. I applied myself diligently to the task of my courses in Information Technology and Web Programming, maintaining the 3.6 GPA I eventually graduated with… in spite of the occasional stress-based hiccup or two.
“A Hellish Alchemy indeed, without equal…”
Thus in June 2004, at the one-year mark of my schooling, my first true web presence was born on the Host Ultra company’s servers. In school, I had to prove I was learning the information, and so I composed my first real website amid my tutelage. More than just the single-page mini-sites of the past, I studiously gathered all the information from those dinosaur-coded monstrosities I had begotten, and streamlined them under my brand new Hellish-Alchemy.com domain.
With a name taken from a monologue about how love can be torturous, from an episode of the early 90’s TV show Forever Knight, clearly I was in a decidedly sharp mood.
Does love really exist in this hedonistic world of ours? Or is it only our selfish needs, our own desires that fuel the potion? Does she love me, love me not? What does it really matter? What hellish alchemy if it does….
Despite my ambitions, the results of my fannish navel-gazing were less than stellar.
This was the first layout of the H-A.com collective, a blood and shit-hued eyesore of a page, hard-coded in pure HTML and with MS Paint as my photo editing program. No one begins skilled, however, and fortunately there was nowhere to go but up.
This second version of the site, the layout of which I so-brilliantly dubbed “Christina Aguilera Stripped Down,” was released to the world in November 2004. The simple black, white and silver colour scheme was more pleasing to my eyes. Despite having to change everything manually due to the static HTML coding, and despite not actually being a fan of the dirrty-pop singer Xtina, I liked the overall look of it, with the sexy singer demurely swaddled in a fluffy comforter and bedsheets. I was able to use Photoshop for the first time while working on the site’s header during school hours.
During that same month I debuted the new layout, I created a site on the domain, which I called Beautiful Mistakes, inspired by a couplet in Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful”.
We’re the song inside the tune
Full of beautiful mistakes…
I specifically set Beautiful Mistakes aside (at the url hellish-alchemy.com/writings/) for all my written work. All my poetry, short stories and fan fiction that I’d written at the time was housed there.
It only received that small slot rather than top billing because, at that time, I still wasn’t terribly sure what I was to do with my life… and I was banking on my computer skills leading me to a comfy day job at a desk contentedly coding my life away.
I didn’t realize then that my hobby of writing would take greater importance in the ensuing years.
In the meantime, a blend of both versions of H-A.com eventually gave birth to its next incarnation. Version 3, which I gave no moniker at all, was ready in June 2005 (arriving two months fashionably late, due to the chaotic whirlwind that came with graduating from BCSI).
The darker daughter of the previous versions, it incorporated the simpler design of Version 2 with the mountain-motif of Version 1. I altered the first version’s original banner in Photoshop, giving it a decidedly more demonic flavour befitting a site with the name of Hellish Alchemy.
Fittingly, with extra time on my hands, my love of website building began to mutate into something bordering on neurosis. My creative hungers became voracious and my vision even more ambitious than before.
Frustratingly, I failed to secure a career in the then male-dominated computer field. To lift my own flagging spirits, I focused whole-heartedly on my website, throwing myself into the act of creative exploration.
This new, sea-light layout with seals swimming to a sun-drenched surface was my message in a bottle. The H-A.com domain then went from a site with one subsite, to a network of sites under one umbrella, with one truly MASSIVE overhaul that took an entire sleep-deprived week to occur, as it went from a static HTML-only site, to a dynamic PHP-based site.
This reinvention included a smooth, sepia-toned Céline Dion fansite, Mon Rêve de Céline.
There was also Fading Away from Me, a site in honour of my favourite rock band Evanescence.
Quotable Quotes which, as the name implies, was an online quotation database.
There was the goofy, niche-filling Forever Knight Faction List.
And the accompanying PHP-based Forever Knight Chatserv.
Not to mention Fragile Beauty, a central hub for the ELEVEN fanlistings I owned!
And, last but not least, the visual cousin to my writings site, my digital art mini-site Restless Heart.
And then, in December 2005, I changed the H-A.com layout for a fifth time, with a new Forever Knight inspired look I called “A Vampire’s Eye View”. Inspired, of course, by the show’s “vamp cam” that gave a bloodsucker’s perspective of flying over the city of Toronto at night. It remains, to this day, my favourite of all my website designs.
And then, in August 2006, I changed the H-A.com layout yet again.
I called it “Beauty in Darkness,” and it featured a lovely promotional photo of KaRIN, the lead singer of the goth-industrial band Collide. It would be the longest-remaining of my H-A.com layouts, and the last to feature the dot-com url.
Whew! All that stuff within a year’s time is an awful lot of work for one person!
But, for better or worse, I had successfully distracted myself from my lack of gainful employment in the field I had spent two years in school honing my skills for. I was forced to suck it up and take a minimum wage job in the meanwhile.
To add insult to injury, my Hellish-Alchemy.com domain name then expired in April 2007, and I lost control of the url.
So, with nothing left for it, I turned to becoming a reseller host with SurpassHosting. I upgraded my website hosting, creating a larger business domain, which I called Dark-Host.com.
I switched Beautiful Mistakes to a free host, in May of that year, and gave it a new look. The featured header was a silhouette of Céline Dion, taken from the photo shoots for her most recent French album D’elles.
Then, I registered the url Hellish-Alchemy.org, but had to endure a number of hiccups before the site went online. To inaugurate the new url, I created a seventh layout for September 2007, featuring the band Nightwish’s new lineup. It was a very timely release, as it was ready just a few short weeks before the band’s upcoming album Dark Passion Play, with their promising new vocalist Anette Olzon.
This Nightwish layout (fittingly dubbed “Night Passion”) would be the final layout for Hellish Alchemy as, after 2007 came to a close, my interest in my websites waned.
For, you see, on 26 July 2007, I had met a lovely young woman online named Nicole. She, like me, was a Forever Knight fan. And, also like me, she loved the SF genre and writing stories. Shyly, we approached the concept of a collaboration with one another, and began to write a story with each other. There was no plan, no outlines, no character sheets, but there was more and more of the story every day. Sometimes it was only a few paragraphs in a half-hour sprint; other times we stayed up for hours, late into the night living out our shared dream of the written word.
In the wake of this rekindled love affair with prose, my websites withered on the vine. After a year and a half together of non-stop writing, I knew where my true passions lie.
And it wasn’t in the dry binary of coded letters and numbers, of if/then/else statements.
It was in the lyricism of fancies, the poetry of the impossible, the metaphor within the mundane. I let most of my websites sit untouched, save for Beautiful Mistakes. That one I continued to consistently update up until 2010, and tweak under the hood until the end of 2011. I even gave it a new look in June 2008, featuring a still from the recent movie-musical Sweeney Todd.
I had finally figured out my direction in life, and was committed to narrowing my focus to what really mattered: Ars Gratia Artis.
Then all hell broke loose.
Me and My Broken Heart
Nicole and I realized we had something special on our hands, and vowed to see it in print on a shelf beside the very giants on whose shoulders we stand.
But not all was well in Melissa’s World. The pressure of trying to succeed was too much; it wasn’t Nicole’s fault, of course, but mine. I was pushing myself too hard and would pay the price for it.
The book wasn’t gaining any agents’ or publishers’ interest. My reseller hosting business was flatlined. I was forced to get foodstamps to feed my family. And worst of all, my ability to craft a diamond-encrusted jewel of a story from ordinary bedrock had suddenly deserted me, deep in my darkest hours.
I was eventually hospitalized in August 2012. Once I left the psychiatric ward, my mood more stable, I returned to my writing. This time, I went easy on myself, going back to where I had begun, when sharing my work on the internet was just a distant dream.
I started writing fan fiction again, reacquainting myself with the tropes and clichés typical of most literature. Finding my voice, using the scaffolding of the worlds that already existed to test the sureness of my footing.
Nicole and I went through a massive re-writing of our story, which evolved into a 130 thousand word monster over the three years we went over it with a fine toothed comb. During that time, I compiled my old poetry (and a few new ones) into the collection Apocryphal Musings, finally publishing it on 20 August 2015.
Nicole and I have renewed our search for a patron who would broker a publishing deal for our novel (and the twelve books’ worth of material after that patiently waiting in the wings).
Now, I am turning up the old, half-crushed and dilapidated boxes of those cobweb-ridden websites (not to mention some real boxes made mostly of cardboard) to find the nuggets of beauty that are truly mine. Any idiot with an internet connection can build a website these days, but it takes most of your lifespan to find that corner of time and space that is wholly yours.
This one is mine.